Creativity

My Office Home

I have an office, a room in my house that I can arrange however I wish. Sometimes I tend the arrangement of my office space, making plans, moving things around, trying to balance the necessary things with the beautiful things and with the items which have drifted into my space because they don’t have anywhere else to belong yet. My office ends up being an eddy in the household. A place where random things come to rest. These things accumulate until the space is so cluttered as to be almost unusable. I sometimes tell myself that this is why I don’t use my office much. It is too cluttered.

I have a secondary office in the front room. It is a chair sitting next to a TV table piled with my laptop, my phone charging station, stacks of books I intend to read, notebooks I grab for writing thoughts down, and loose papers where I wrote notes when I couldn’t get to a notebook fast enough. This space is unlovely, but contained. I sit in it every day, seamlessly moving from household administration to creative work. All the other people in the household walk into this space and talk to me. They don’t intend to interrupt my work, but the space is public. It is where they come to eat and be social. On the third time I’m interrupted mid-written-sentence, I wonder why I don’t retreat to my office, to a space that is more private where they’ll think before intruding. But it feels dark down there in the basement, despite the cheerful yellow paint on the walls. Despite the art I selected and arranged. Despite the leaf trim I hand painted which adorns the top edge of the room. Lack of windows and natural light is another reason I give for not using my office.

I have a plan about my windowless office. I heard of a means to make a faux window. I bought the supplies from the light board to the curtains. All the pieces are sitting there among the other clutter. Waiting for me to move the dresser, so I can remove and re-space the shelves, which will let me reorganize the books, which will let me install the faux window, and create a cozy space that I will surely start using. I can put the cozy faux-fireplace space heater right under the window. That would be the same heater I bought to make the space feel cozy so that I would start using the space more. I keep trying to lure myself down there. It keeps not quite succeeding.

My desktop computer resides in my office. I sit at it to print postage, to do the weekly accounting, to work on layout and graphic design. I sit there several hours per week, sometimes as many as twenty or thirty hours per week depending on the shape and urgency of projects. I sit at the desk covered with stacks of paper intended to remind me of coming tasks, next to my arrangement of small artworks on the wall. Most of the art is small prints or originals purchased directly from artists at conventions. They make me happy when I remember to look at them instead of focusing on the work in front of me.

In the other corner is the rocking chair which used to live in my baby’s room. All four babies in turn were rocked in that chair, and then it was shuffled from corner to corner of the house after children no longer needed to be rocked. I supposed it makes sense that it ended up in my office when I wasn’t willing to let the chair go, even though all the babies had become adults. I sit in that chair every week for two hours while I attend an online writer’s date. My writer friends see this little corner with its library of books and the wooden carved mask which we bought on our trip to South Africa in 1999, another object that ended up in my office because it carried to much emotional freight for us to let it go, but for which we couldn’t find any other place in the house for it to belong.

So I guess I do use my office. I use it for specific tasks and to store specific things. Yet it feels like I don’t. It feels like I sit in the front room, in the sunshine, and in different clutter than my office clutter, trying to write where people will walk through and talk to me. And when they do, I wonder to myself why I don’t go sit in my office. I wonder, but I don’t get up and move.

I have a tertiary office. It is my bedroom, one corner of which I’ve turned into a Zoom space. I painted that corner of the room a different color from the rest and put up decorative shelves where they can be seen on camera. Carefully placed beautiful objects adorn the space. That little corner makes me happy to see when I look at it from my bed. It isn’t comfortable for working (hence sitting downstairs for my weekly writer dates), but it is perfect for attending Zoom meetings and virtual parties. I love my Zoom corner.

Sometimes I sit on my bed to write. I prop up all the pillows and open the blinds so that I can see out into my back garden with its trees. From that spot I can stare out the window, or look at my Zoom corner. It is a quiet space where people won’t interrupt me as easily. My use of this tertiary space lends credence to the theory that the problem with my office might actually be the lack of windows. I crave natural light, particularly in the winter months.

I imagine a hypothetical office someday. Perhaps when I can claim a bedroom back from one of my children after they leave home. I imagine an office which combines all the best parts of my current offices. With a designated shelf for books I intend to read, a desk specifically for letter writing and crafting, comfortable lounging spaces for writing, natural light streaming in the window, and art I selected for myself.

If I had this hypothetical office, would I use it all the time? Or is it something else that draws me to do so much work while sitting exactly where everyone can easily interrupt me? Perhaps I have a habit of always being available because I spent so many years being the on-call parent when my kids were small. Perhaps it is in response to the fact that Howard and I have a collaborative process made up of a dozen small creative meetings throughout the day where we round up the thoughts from the just-finished task and open up the thoughts for what comes next. Perhaps it is knowing that I have to catch my people in the moments when they are in between if I want to talk to them at all. So I lurk in the place they pass through.

I don’t actually have answers, I don’t need answers, but I find the behavioral observation of myself interesting. I have three office spaces, but all of them are some level of shared. I could retreat more often than I do, but I tend not to. I could claim spaces and set boundaries around them more firmly, but I don’t. Mostly it works. I’m able to create and think and administer. So my process may be scattered and strange, but It isn’t actually a problem. I guess I’ll keep flowing with it until the need for something else emerges.

Being Called Back to My Writer Self

I keep a notebook where I write down my tasks sorted by days. I don’t write down every single thing. For house tasks like laundry or dishes, I rely on physical reminders to prompt me to do the thing (laundry basket is full, sink is full) so I don’t write those down. But appointments, phone calls I need to make, emails I need to send; these all end up on my lists. Life has been feeling a lot busier since about mid-May. I wondered if that was actually true, or if all the thinking involved with shipping just made my brain tireder. I pulled out a notebook from six months ago, back then my lists were 3-5 tasks per day. Now I’m averaging 8-10. Demands on my time and attention have definitely increased, and the increase seems unlikely to subside on its own. The pandemic gifted me with uninterrupted hours and very few expectations. Now I’ve returned to a world where I must defend the space in my schedule.

This week I was visiting with a writer friend during a weekly Zoom date to get writing done. She asked after my creative projects. All the things I’d been working on were business or shipping related. She nodded and understood the urgency of my tasks, understood that over the next six months tasks directly linked to earning money were going to absorb much of my time and attention because my family needs income. She was kind and accepting, but the mere asking of the question was a tether which tugged me into remembering that, for my own long term emotional health, I can’t always prioritize the endless list of tasks. Sometimes I need to stake out a space for the work which will help me grow, or which will make the world better, or which just brings me joy. I have to defend that space from all the excuses I have to use that time for something “more productive.” I have to defend it from the impulse to just knock a few more tasks off the list. On Wednesday mornings, for two hours, I need to be a writer first.

Also this week I hosted one of my monthly online Creative Check-Ins with a small group of fellow creative people where we talk about our projects, how they progressed in the past month (or didn’t.) It is really helpful for each of us to talk about how our projects interact with our lives. Life affecting projects, projects affecting life. We’d almost reached the end of our time when one of my friends reminded me that in all the discussion, I hadn’t talked about my projects. Again I talked about shipping, and tasks, and business. I talked about why I allow these things to overrun my creative spaces, shoving to the edges anything that doesn’t bring income. Again I received nods and acceptance. Again, saying the things out loud prompted me to reach behind all the logic of how I arrange my days. To reach past the ways that the endless tide of tasks is important to support my long term life goals. I was surprised to find myself talking about a minor creative rejection which had a larger emotional footprint in my creative life than I’d realized. Because my friends were there, I was able to process that emotion in ways that help me clear the way for me to create again. Once per month for two hours I have a window of time to commiserate and rejoice with others about the creative projects in our lives.

A third thing which happened this week was an email from a writer friend with whom I’ve begun swapping critiques. She had a new manuscript for me to look at and re-iterated that she’d love to look at something I have ready. I have nothing ready. I meant to, but I got swept up in the tide of shipping, barely able to keep my head above water. That tide has ebbed, but it is so easy for me to dive into more tasks. To become accustomed to living by lists. In many ways lists are easier. They are far less emotionally risky that putting my heart into a creative work which might be rejected or ignored. Tasks are also satisfying. I check them off and they’re done. Each tiny completion has endorphins, which means that even while I complain about feeling busy, there is an attraction to accomplishing things and being productive. There is also the illusion that if I can complete this weeks set of lists, that will somehow reduce the number of tasks for next week. As if most of my life tasks weren’t repetitive and cyclical. Yet now there is this email, like a thin line cutting through the water, tugging me back to a place where I can get my feet under me and remember the writing work I want to be doing. For this critique I will read a book, and engage my writer brain. Periodically an email will nudge me toward the projects I want to send to my friend because I am reminded how much I want to hear what she has to say about the stories I’ve written.

Three times this week I’ve been gently tugged back to my writer self. Each time I was pulled by a connection I have to a writer community. Those connections are ones I have carefully acquired and maintained in during the past several years. For me the key has been finding people who ask how I’m doing and give me the space to ramble past the surface response into the deeper concerns. It was also in learning to trust that people actually wanted to hear my answer rather than them just being nice to me because they are nice people. I have a tendency to hide in plain sight, to turn conversations away from myself. I am far more comfortable talking about the concerns of others rather than my own. So this week is evidence of personal growth. At this point in my life, I’ve managed to build community connections that truly support me and call me back to myself when I get a little lost. This is a joy to discover in my life. It is a joy I want to share with others so they can have it too. Fortunately, that is exactly how mutually-supportive community connections work.

Now I need to heed the calls and get back to the writing I’m meant to be doing. Conveniently, this blog post is part of that work. 🙂

Networking for People with Social Anxiety

In two weeks I’ll be teaching this class. I’m very excited about it and have been happily collecting notes and reference material. Next week I get to start organizing that material and putting together the lecture notes. I’ll be drawing from my personal experiences as a person with social anxiety, neuroscience, TED talks, and other source material. The focus will be on helping each class member be able to recognize when and where anxiety may be driving their behavior and how to deliberately counteract that anxiety so that they can connect with others. There will be a focus on professional networking situations, but friendship and professional networks often blend together, so building friendships is also a big part of the class.

I’m still working to fill seats in the class, maybe you’d like to join me?

I’m Teaching Classes!

This year I’m teaching classes online. Right now I’m teaching one per month. Here are the classes for February and March, and a method for getting access to recordings for prior classes:

Creativity Vs Social Media

February 19, 12pm MST

A class on how to balance the need for a public facing social media presence with safety, privacy, and space to create.

Social media is omnipresent in our current society. It is part of how we connect to others, but if you are living a creative life where you need to interact with fans or customers, then social media can become a minefield. This class discusses how to remove some of those mines, protect yourself from others, and create a path forward for yourself where you can preserve a level of privacy necessary to your mental health, defend your creative work from the possible corrosive effects of social media, and still take advantage of the online opportunities to make your work flourish and be seen. Join Sandra Tayler for a two hour interactive class that begins with a lecture and ends with a small group discussion to help class members figure out their individual balance between creative life and online life.


Networking for People with Social Anxiety

March 20, 10am MST

Overcoming your fears and making real connections to help you build your creative work

Networking is a valuable component in any creative career, yet the thought of networking makes many want to run away and hide. Networking doesn’t have to be hard or scary when you learn to work with your natural ways of connecting rather than trying to fit an external image of what networking should look like. The class will teach how to start a conversation, how to end one, and how to tell when your conversational partner would like to be done talking. It will also cover when to bring up your own creative work and how to speak confidently about your work. You’ll also learn the ways that social anxiety can affect even confident people in both overt and subtle ways. We’ll talk about how to recognize when anxiety is driving your decisions and behavior and then ways to counteract that anxiety. All of the ideas will be discussed for both in person and online interactions with others. Class format is 90 minutes of lecture followed by 30 minues of Q&A discussion.


Support Sandra’s Patreon

If you want access to the recording of my January class Structuring Life to Support Creativity, you can subscribe to my Patreon at the Creative Community level. Subscribing also gets you an automatic seat in all of my classes at a discounted rate, access to additional recordings as they become available, invitations to online social events, and a voice in helping me choose what classes to teach in the future.

Tossing Breadcrumbs Forward Through the Woods

I’ve been feeling gray lately. Most years I don’t start feeling winter blah until after the holidays, but it came early this year. A friend says we’re all like squirrels starting the winter with empty trees, winter reserves already depleted. That feels true of me this year. This same friend has been combating the mood by undertaking a completely non-productive project which spends resources but makes her happy. I was glad to see it working for her, but no project I contemplated sparked any sort of joy in me. Holidays seemed a set of looming obligations instead of something to look forward to. On top of the gray mood, I seem to have hit a migraine cycle.

This morning I started the day with caffeine to stave off the impending migraine. The caffeine unlocked that portion of my brain which allows me to be happy about projects. I’ll pay for it with insomnia tonight, but this morning I purchased elaborate shaped silicone molds for making ridiculous desserts for Thanksgiving. (Molded jello, truffles, shaped butter, etc.) I have a plan which involves delivering food to my married daughter we’ll have to wave to from afar this year. I’m going to have my two in-house assistants help me create the ridiculous food. I also have fragmentary ideas for a blog post on how holidays are always a construct that we create for each other, and the shake ups of this year are an opportunity to create anew.

I hope I get to keep some of my creative anticipation once the caffeine wears off. My molds are arriving on Monday, so now I have a small thing to look forward to. After that I can look forward to making the foods. After that, delivering the foods. By the time I get there, I will hopefully have found some other small thing I can look forward to just a couple of days out. I think that is how I’ll make it through this winter. Not with anticipating large things that are weeks or months away, but by tossing small markers only a couple of days into the future, and making sure I toss the next one just before I reach the current one. It’s like a reverse Hansel and Gretel breadcrumb trail to lead me out the other side instead of back where I started.

Dreaming Big

I’m on an email chain with a group of writers. Once per week one of us will send out an email with writing tips, inspiration, or encouragement. The email for this week invited all of us to recognize how often we limit ourselves to only imagining what we feel is realistic instead of dreaming big. We were all invited to respond with the writing dreams we have that feel really big, the ones which are unrealistic, the ones which we know aren’t actually in our control, but we want anyway. It took me some time to even find mine, because the email was correct. I do really tend to focus on making sure that my goals are concrete and within my control. And that is as it should be for goals. They should be measurable and attainable. But dreams are different. Dreams are how we know where to aim our goals. The are the lodestone which helps us pick a direction, even when we know that the terrain ahead is going to force us to change that direction dozens of times.

So I sat with myself and waited for the dreams to surface. These are the ones I found:
To be invited to give a keynote at a writer’s conference
To end up in the acknowledgements of other people’s books because I put in the time to help other writers develop their craft and survive this crazy ride of writing/publishing.
To revise my middle grade novel so I can start submitting it to agents by the end of this year.
To pay off my debts so that I have more head space to focus on creating the things which feel important with less concern about the things that make money.

In comparison with some of the other dreams in the thread, (be a best seller, have a book made into a movie, travel the world on book money) my dreams seem small. Perhaps they are. Perhaps I need to find the courage to dream even bigger. Yet for right now, these are the writing dreams that ring true to me. These are the ones that ring like true crystal when it is struck.

Interestingly, every single one of these dreams is served by the same goal: make time to write every day. I was working on a 500 word per day habit in November until holiday brain fry followed by wedding made focusing on anything else quite difficult. This past week I’ve cleared away the brain fog and have begun to make inroads on the physical mess. That means it is time for me to put 500 words per day back onto the calendar. Because, paths to big dreams are made out of small goals and it is time for me to get to work again.

On Breakfast Outings, Pokemon, and Writing

The morning began with a quest. I’d only been up for a few minutes when Howard wandered into the room and said “you want to go get crepes for breakfast?” The crepe place is down in the Riverwoods shopping area, which is full of Pokestops and Pokemon Gyms. This fact is relevant since our entire family has taken up Pokemon Go in the past month. So we gathered everyone who felt like questing and off we went.

The weather was lovely, the food was good, and most of the stores didn’t open for another hour or two. We wandered along the paths collecting Pokemon and spinning stops. Almost everything about Pokemon Go is designed to get people to leave their houses and walk to different locations. It has certainly worked that way for our family. We now have people randomly deciding to go for short walks, even though we’re walking the same paths over and over, it feels new because we never know what surprises the game will throw our way. Going outside to stare at our phones and play a game is healthier for us than staying at home to sit in a chair and play a game.

I posted the above picture on twitter, and multiple people commented on the snow-capped mountain in the corner of the frame. It is so easy for me to forget that not everyone has vertical landscape looming over them at all times. I so often fail to notice how beautiful Utah is. I need to pause and admire the mountains more.

On the return home, I still had almost a full day ahead of me. For once, the most pressing deadline was on a writing task. I have a short story due at the end of the month and it isn’t fully drafted yet. I’d so enjoyed being outdoors in the pleasant weather, that I decided to sit on my back porch in my red bistro chairs to find the right words to tell the story I had outlined. Milo saw me outside and was so forlorn that I put on his harness and brought him outside with me.

Writing is a strange process. After forming a scene in my head and then writing sentences to convey that scene, I hit a point where I don’t know what sentence comes next. That’s when I pause and open up twitter or do a quick stretch. I have to pull my brain away from the task at hand so that I can circle back around to it with renewed vigor. It is rather like getting a muscle cramp in my hand and taking a moment to shake it out and stretch.

During one of my twitter breaks, I had a series of thoughts about writing, happiness, and goals:

A thing I’m trying to make a habit: instead of focusing on the thing I want and can’t reach yet, focus on the thing I get to do today which may eventually help me to that goal.

My writing career may never make significant money nor have much audience, even though I’d like it to have both. But neither of those goals will ever happen unless I put in the work.

And doing the work is much easier when I learn to love the work for itself rather than treating it like a chore to get me someplace else.

Today I get to sit on my porch with green things all around (and a cat) while I write a short story. That is a beautiful thing to get to do, even if the story never sells and is never read.

I wish I could always cultivate that mindset instead of getting tangled up in grief and worry. Of course the realities of money and bills mean that many days I have to set aside my personal writing in order to do the tasks which actually earn money. Some day those two things may come into more alignment, which would be nice, but I’m also aware that it would change my relationship to the words and the process of making them. Having a dream job often means turning something you enjoy into work, and it isn’t always the best way to balance life. But all of that is in the future. For today I sneak time to do writing which I love and which pays for nothing. And I try to pause and recognize when I get to have a beautiful day full of breakfast quests, pokemon, and writing. No matter what comes next, it can’t take away that lovely day I had.

Fall Break

My kids were out of school for five days. Instead of packing up everyone and heading out for adventures, we stayed home to do comforting things and a few projects. Some of the projects took place in the video game world, but mine were house and harvest.

Years ago we planted grape vines. The starts were gifted to us by a Schlock fan who worked at a vineyard, so we have varieties that aren’t typically seen in home gardens. The vines have matured and we now get a huge harvest each fall.

This year there was a boom in snail population, because for each batch of grapes we brought in, I had to rescue dozens to a hundred tiny snails. The finger pictured is a pinky finger.

The snails had to be rescued because once the grapes were de-stemmed, we cooked them into juice.

Then the juice was cooked into jelly. It was a lot of stove work and glass bottles.

The kitties had their own ideas about how to spend the weekend.

On the Monday of the break there was a different project entirely. We had a big solid redwood playset that we purchased when our kids were little. For the past five years or more, it has sat in our yard unused gathering detritus. We decided that it was time for the playset to move to a home with two six year old boys and a baby. So bright and early we began work.

The job and playset were bigger than the new playset owners expected. But I put my crew of adult-sized kids to work and things came down pretty quickly.

The disassembly process showed me all the ways in which this playset is amazingly solid after sitting outside in the weather for more than 15 years. It also let me see that being disassembled is the best possible thing to happen to it. The new owners will be able to clean everything up, replace aging bolts, re-stain, and replace the few boards that are showing structural wear. I’m glad it is going to people who are excited to do that work. I would never have gotten around to it.

It is always interesting to see what you find in a project like this one. I figured out where all the kid scissors went. We used to have so many rules about scissors not going outside. Rules that were apparently not heeded as evidenced by the graveyard of lost scissors.

Now there is a big empty space in my yard where the playset used to stand. Everything feels open and new possibilities are beginning to be mulled over.

All in all, it was a lovely use for a long weekend. Though I was physically tired at the end of it.

Sunday Morning Writing Thoughts

I was having a little bit of trouble motivating myself this morning. Not that I didn’t want to work, but I found myself wondering why I was spending effort on writing words that are unlikely to ever earn significant quantities of money. That voice doesn’t speak up when I’m writing blog posts or private journal entries. It seems to understand that the value of those words is in sorting my brain…or it has just given up arguing since I keep doing that writing anyway. But when I pick up words with the intent of publishing them via paths other than tossing them on the internet for free, the thoughts begin. The particular refrain this time around is that I really should be focusing on the work which will assist in my goals of paying down debt as fast as possible.

I have counter arguments of course. I know there is value in creative work even if the only one changed by it is me. I know that the people I’ve told about Herding Wild Horses have expressed interest in seeing it complete. I know that I can’t always tell what will grow from the planting of seeds that happens when I write outside of my comfort zones.

And I find myself thinking of a line that appeared in today’s Schlock Mercenary comic:
“If you look close enough at the present, you can find loose bits of the future just laying around.”

And I think of a thing I saw on the internet recently which spoke of how the butterfly effect is always cited in time travel stories, but that somehow people neglect to realize that this means we are all the butterfly. Every small change we make has the chance to dramatically affect the world we will eventually be carried into via the passage of time.

So the answer becomes: I write these things because any future that contains my words published and read, begins with a today where I write those words without any guarantee that they’ll go anywhere.

Retreat Progress Report 1

Go for a walk in the woods
Done
Take some photographs
Done
Maybe write up a post or two about thoughts related to the walk and photographs

Done
Pull out my files of picture book ideas and refresh my thoughts on them
There are two that feel like I should push them forward right now: Herding Wild Horses about Amy’s Mommy, and an unnamed book about a little boy with anxiety.
Write some words on one of those picture books
Herding Wild Horses is 50% drafted now. Much revision will happen after the first draft.

Look at the fragments of blog posts and essays that I never completed
Found notes for three blog posts in my paper journal.
Pick one thing to write up as a full essay
Got one about Haiku and life structure. Will put it on the list for tomorrow.
Generate ideas for a short story or two
Done. They are fragments, but more than I had before.
Read a book
Several short stories from The Sum of Us, a speculative fiction anthology focusing on caregivers.
Help my son with an essay over speaker phone because that is the one last home thing that I do need to allow to encroach into this retreat.
I tried, but not much to do if no one on that end answers the phone. Since I got communication from several sources that everyone at home is alive and well, I know this is a simple case of no one picking up the phone when it rings because they were all too involved in their own things. I’ll try again tomorrow.

Additional things done:
A nap
Wrote emails to a couple of friends
Did some work setting up store items in our new store software
Read some online things
Conversations with friends who are also present at the retreat

Goals for tomorrow:
Finish draft of Herding Wild Horses
Write 1000 words of short story draft
Write the haiku post
Walk outdoors
Take some pictures
Post some pictures